Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Sky - A Poem of Found Images

I like seeing light in the world, permeating little things, enchanting. I notice its presence with a child's wonder, seeing the world for the first time, as if it did not exist before I looked. Raindrops on leaves are an endless fascination. There is nothing as happy as the grass, covered with dewdrop diamonds in the morning after a short summer rain.

In one old children's poem, shape-shifting clouds take the forms of endlessly changing desserts, stacks of cakes, ice-cream, whipped cream... Unlike the hungry, boy dreaming of sweets, Dyzio Marzyciel (The Dreamer), I don't see food above my head, only magic. The transformation of our world from the profane, ugly and boring to the sacred, saturated with quiet charm may happen anytime, anywhere.

In an instant, I see footsteps of the Greek goddess, Demeter, in another, I am moved to inhabit a painting... It takes just a bit of effort, after eyes are washed of the unwanted images of distress, chaos, pain. I still remember that stain of blood on the sidewalk in Venice, left after a suicide. I still see faces distorted by hate. I want to erase these memories with raindrops on rose leaves.

Some of my roses have impenetrable surfaces, keeping the raindrops round, jewel-like. Other ones absorb moisture in an instant, the drops spread out into amorphous blobs and disappear.

My life, my words, may be one or the other, visible or invisible, remembered or forgotten. I do not know what will happen when I'm gone. Now, this is my time to write, to record the beauty I discover. I am a witness to what I want to see. I could write about the rotten cans and layers of graffiti marring the landscape of the riverbed, and that rusty jeep that was sitting on the shore for years, gradually losing parts to the homeless, selling it off, bit by bit for scrap metal. OK, maybe I'll write about that jeep and the homeless. I already started, but that poem is still unfinished. Too dark, maybe? Too hopeless?

Today, it is time for something sweet. Isn't Halloween the day for treats?


A Poem of Found Images by Maja Trochimczyk

I live inside a painting
by Rene Magritte.

My river is made of silver,

my sunsets of tiger stripes.

I make my own rainbows.

My roses sing in the morning

to a sweet tune of water droplets

playing on the edges of leaves.

Spherical, crystal-clear globulets

of white light adorn each green surface,

like a handful of diamonds scattered

by Demeter, the goddess of plenty.

Water shines in full sunlight -

a child's memory, innocent and pure -

glistening before the breeze stirs,

droplets fall and petals begin their journey

crumbling into dust.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Poetry for an Art Auction

Do you want to know how did I end up with an enormous map of Venice waiting for its place on my wall? No? I'll tell you anyway. It is all the fault of the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance. This civic advocacy group was formed for the "No to Home Depot" campaign - one of the recent successes in the fight for self-determination in our foothill community. The group mobilized everyone else, persuaded our elected officials that they have to listen to our voices, and, despite fierce opposition of corporate interests and the efforts of their lobbyists, the community had its say.

Fast forward to September 2010. The Alliance decides to help local cultural groups and, with other local partners - artists and community activists organizes a Community Art Sale and Silent Auction to benefit three cultural institutions: McGroarty Arts Center, Bolton Hall Museum, Little Landers Historical Society. Over 60 pieces of art are available for sale including about 20 pieces from local artists and an entire collection of maps, drawings, prints, and photographs depicting such varied topics as sailboats, English manor scenes, bird's-eye maps of famous cities, caricatures, and construction scenes.

I was invited to write about the artwork on sale, but was featured at another reading on the same day, at the Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada. I could only be there for 30 minutes at the end. It was not a huge obstacle to the organizers, more a problem for me, since my favorite painting was sold by then (a landscape scene with yucca flowers in a art-deco gold frame), but I still felt I had to contribute a plem, buy an artwork and have my share in community life.

A visit to the event's website left me with short poem, about the rooster. I found the Asian-style image inspiring, for I'm a Rooster myself (in the Chinese Zodiac), as vain about my appearance as the painted bird:

The Rooster

© 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

Crowned with red
I admire black feathers
of my silky tail

I wake up at night
to proudly crow about
my strong beak and talons

Buyer beware

The rest of the images on the site somehow did not make sense, I could not figure out what it was all about until I saw an album of photographs of the entire collection, donated to be sold anonymously and benefit Sunland-Tujunga's cultural organizations. Painter and activist Debby Beck brought the album to local Starbucks where I had a revelation! Pages and pages of hunt scenes, pages and pages of boats, pages and pages of workers soldering steel beams, pages and pages of maps... I was hooked and found my way into the imagery, capturing my impressions in free verse:

Dreaming of Elsewhere

© 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

Red jackets shine against dark green foliage
of English copse and hedge.
Over the hill and dale ride the hunters.
Tally ho… Tally ho… hounds bark,
their voices echo through the fields
on a frosty morning.

Steam boats wait to take explorers
to the South Seas, Tahiti, Argentina.
White sails barely flutter in the breeze,
stiff and proud on the tall ships
of her Majesty, the Queen.

The West Australian,
The East Indian, Sultana,
The Kestrel – all are ready
for adventure, to circle the world,
conquer foreign lands,
bring back the gold of El Dorado.

Dreamers dreaming dreams –

We are at the edge of the ocean,
blue and deep, it stretches
to Japan we seldom think about
here, in the Far West
of Pacific Rim, Terra Incognita.

The lay of the land is clear
on antique maps, straight
from paintings by Vermeer –
only the milkmaid’s missing,
and the pearl. Canals, islands,
and church towers of Venice,
evenly measured empty blocks
of Atlanta, chaos of streets
crowded like children
at a Los Angeles fiesta,
and the mysterious labyrinth
of Boston, carved from sea,
sliced away from water.

Why Boston? Why so much Boston?
Is there a secret to this Eastern city
that explains Californian sun?

We do not hunt foxes in jackets
redder than their fur. We do not
wait for the sailboats and steamships
to take us where we do not belong.
We measure the lay of our land
in cypress, sycamore and live oak,
with the scent of sage shimmering
in summer heat above dried chaparral,
with star jasmine and orange blossoms
sweetening our winter gardens.

We are not going anywhere –
not to New York to construct
the tallest buildings of heavy steel,
not to an English manor
where silver is polished weekly,
and the butler serves tea
and scones at five o’clock.

Dreamers dreaming dreams –

We are here, longing for
elsewhere. Shall we ever
catch foxes eating fruit
in our vineyards? Shall we
find ourselves in lands distant,
exotic, unknown?

The sailboats and steamships sailed away to distant shores; the maps and small pieces found their way to people's dreams. The center, museum and society counted and shared the donations. I was left in Venice, a six-foot-long, mahogany-framed detailed map of Venice - the magic city I dream of visiting again.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In Praise, Awe of the Mountains

Poetic inspiration comes from outside - the world - and inside - reflections and emotions. For me, being very sensitive to shapes and colors and the beauty of nature. California mountains are a major inspiration. I come from Poland which is a flat-country, with a small area of mountains in the south (the Tatras at the northernmost tip of Carpatian Mountains), some hilly terrain in the Foothills, and then flat all the way to the Baltic Sea. Fields, meadows and copses have their allure, the bigness of the sky above, if you walk out away from buildings, is astounding. The skylark's song falls on the ground like a rain of little bells. You do not even see the singer so high above your head...

But to live in California means to live in the mountains. Los Angeles has a bad rap internationally, as the city of crime, car chases, barbed wire, and graffiti. Nobody tells us before we come here of the amazing gardens, hills and mountains: San Gabriels, Santa Monica, Verdugo Hills... They criss-cross the terrain, so that everywhere we go we'd see something beautiful and breathtaking.

I live in the foothills, watch the mountains from my kitchen window, go for long walks in the dry river-bed of Tujunga Wash admiring the ever-changing colors and shapes of the mountains. Being aware that there are no cities for a while and they stretch for miles into the desert is a part of the allure of our little hermitage.

Interlude – Of the Mountains


I love you, my mountains,
oranged into sunset
of embarrassment.

Your cheeks aglow –
what sin you’re hiding,
in waterless creases,
what guilt?

Or is it first love
that makes you shine
with such glory?

The sunlight in California is so different from northern areas of Canada, or Poland. There it is pale, often grayish, frail. Here it brings a rainbow of colors to everything it touches. Everything is more vivid, more intense, under the bright rays, in summer or winter...


Bare mountains –
no – old grassy hills
worn out by wind
and torrential rains
shine in stark morning light
like exquisite folds
of red-brown velvet
covered with stardust.

Snow whitens the slopes
sculpted by crevices.

The earth sighs
in her sleep.

When my mother came to visit in 1999, she thought that these mountains, without a protective layer of trees, all exposed to the elements, looked like heaps of dought and still bore imprints of the giants' hands. I liked that image so much, I put it into a poem.


I’ll never tire of these mountains
made from the earth’s dough
by the hands of a giant
who kneaded a cake
that was never finished,
the dough left in piles
on the table of smooth fields
surprised by their sudden end
in rich folds and falls
decorated with the icing of snow
on cloudy winter mornings.

The sunsets are astounding and the skies glow. It is the clearest and the most spectacular in the winter, after the rain washes away the smog. But the fire-season knows its glories, too, the darker, wine-read hues. The next part of my Interlude, from Miriam's Iris (Moonrise Press, 2008), was actually inspired by a memory of looking at a different set of mountains, rocks falling apart in the Monument Valley.

IV. (A Monument of Time)

Submerged in the sand of time,
a continent from beyond
sinks in the last sunset.

Shadows move briskly.
Soon, a gentle coat of oblivion
will cover the ridges.

The desert sleeps
devouring life.
Clocks stop.

The rocks are on fire
boiling over
into the evening sky.

Sand rises slowly.
The mountains drown
in silence.

The pastels can be seen in January, our spring. With clouds, like scarves on the hilltops, with fresh greenery of new grass on the slopes, the mountains are ready for a party. I put that last poem on a postcard I printed, with the photo above, for my participation in the 2010 Fourth of July Parade of Sunland-Tujunga. I gave them out to everyone at the parade and still do giveaways from time to time. A cute little trifle, just to make your day a fresher/newer day....

Interlude - Of Bliss


I’m delighted
with newness of this day –
fresh, new grass and
fresh, new leaves and
fresh, new clouds
in fresh, new sky
Washed clean by rainfall,
colored by ever-brighter light
of green and blue,
hope and innocence,
the hues of my love.
Even the mountains wear
their fresh, new dresses
with pleats of ridges and gullies
waiting to be ironed out
by the breath of wind and time.

But the mountains are temperamental, they shake, they burn, they fall apart. Living in their shadow is like living with an elephant in the room, or a giant rhinoceros in the backyard. The danger and beauty are celebrated in my occasional poem for An Award Ceremony for community volunteers who helped with January floods, organized by City Councilman Paul Krekorian. Called three days before the ceremony, I came up with the following poem. I now adapted it to the fire season, for the nature of the danger may change, but the threat remains.

Mountain Watch

They are a bit vain, aren’t they
these mountains of ours, still young.
They like being washed by the rain,
making themselves pretty for sunset.
Wet soil turns into a mudbath
for these giant beauties.

When they stretch and practice
their dance moves, our houses crumble.
Water jumps out of toilet bowls.
Aunt Rosie’s favorite crystal vase
shatters on the floor. The mountains
shake boulders out of their skirts,
lose weight. Rocks slide into our backyards.

We stand watch. We are ready.
Neighbor calls neighbor: “Are you OK?”
A friend you did not know you had
stops by. The danger looms.

In ancient Rome, guards had to hold
one hand up, with the finger on their lips
in a sign of silence, attention. I read
about it in a book, standing on my shelf,
in a crowded row of treasures
I hauled across the ocean, from the
old country to an unknown world.
I’d hate losing them to mud.

When the mountains dress in red
robes of fire, to dance in the night
rites of destruction, sometimes
it is too late for treasures. An old man
lost a hundred years of memories,
when his family heirlooms –
pictures, tchotchkes – burned to ashes.
His life spared, he still cries for what
he cannot not bring back.

We are lucky. Storms came and went.
The neighbors lived, the houses survived.
We were ready: moved out, moved in,
moved out, moved in, awakened
at midnight, sheltered by the goodwill
of unknown friends. We watched.
The storms passed. This was a good year.
We will watch. The aging beauties
will dance again.

Maja Trochimczyk and Paul Krekorian at the Awards Ceremony, June 2010.


All content, poetry and photos (C) by Maja Trochimczyk, 2010.
Mountain poems were all published in Maja Trochimczyk, Miriam's Iris, or Angels in the Garden, Los Angeles: Moonrise Press, 2008.
Mountain Watch was published in The Voice of the Village, July 2010.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Secret of Poetry ... and Chopin

Is it hard to be a poet? Apparently, no. Someone said that there are more poets on this planet than ants. I would not go that far, I think that humans are still outnumbered by insects. Nonetheless, I’m constantly surprised and delighted by encounters with poets in so many different walks of life. Before moving here from Montreal, Canada (and earlier, from Poland) I thought that Los Angeles was a place where every second person is an actor or screenwriter waiting for a lucky break. I know now that it is a place of poets and artists. I’m blessed with many new artistic friendships. There are numerous poetry readings across town, there are so many different groups and groupies.

Here in Sunland-Tujunga, a small town in the foothills, we have a museum, art center, historical society, and so much more. Three groups of poets invite members: Chupa Rosa Writers, McGroarty Chapter of the California Association of Chaparral Poets, and Village Poets. There has been a monthly poetry reading series first called The Eccentric Moon, then Camelback Poetry Readings, and now Village Poets Readings. We’ve had festivals and publications, and, since 1999, the institution of the Poet Laureate has highlighted the profile of poetry. What does such a Poet Laureate do? Wonder around in a toga and a laurel wreath?

Maybe once… first and foremost a Poet Laureate is expected to read poetry, write poetry, promote poetry, teach poetry, publish poetry, and breathe poetry… Until 2006, I have never read my poetry in public, nor gone to public readings. I always had poems at home on my shelf, in my native language, Polish, in bi-lingual editions, Italian, French, and in English. I started writing after emigrating to Canada, when I felt completely out of place in my new country and decided to make a home for myself in a new language. I did two contradictory things at the same time: I changed my name back to my impossibly sounding/looking Polish original, and I started writing poetry in English. Thus, I have established a hybrid identity that is from neither the Old World nor from the New one. This fate of not really belonging anywhere is the fate of a “displaced person” who left one country and cannot grow roots in another. Poetry became, for me, a way of “rooting myself” into the new culture, exploring a new world of imagination, and recording & communicating the most intimate thoughts and emotions.

Since I like going to concerts and exhibits, I often write about music or art. This spring, I published a book of poetry about the sublimely beautiful romantic piano music by Fryderyk Chopin, whose 200th birth anniversary is celebrated this year. Called Chopin with Cherries: A Tribute in Verse, the volume includes 123 poems by 92 poets, who live in different countries around the world, but all love Chopin’s music (

The title comes from one of my poems, based on a childhood memory of eating cherries while sitting in a tree, and listening to a Chopin concert on the radio. Here it is:

A Study with Cherries

After Etude in C Major, Op. 10, No. 1 and the cherry orchard
of my grandparents, Stanisław and Marianna Wajszczuk

I want a cherry,
a rich, sweet cherry
to sprinkle its dark notes
on my skin, like rainy preludes
drizzling through the air.

Followed by the echoes
of the piano, I climb
a cherry tree to find rest
between fragile branches
and relish the red perfection –
morning cherry music.

Satiated, sleepy,
I hide in the dusty attic.
I crack open the shell
of a walnut to peel
the bitter skin off,
revealing white flesh –
a study in C Major.

Tasted in reverie,
the harmonies seep
through light-filled cracks
between weathered beams
in Grandma’s daily ritual
of Chopin at noon.

To honor my other set of grandparents, at the border of Belarus, I wrote about my summer memories of harvest, that even little children had to participate in. Thanks to Polish national radio broadcasts, Chopin’s music was present everywhere and people were all the better for it. Their attachment to this music had a root in national history and in a characteristic trait of defiance, connected to a sense of honor and nobility. During WWII, the Nazis banned Chopin and playing his music in public or listening at home was punishable by being sent to a concentration camp. People grew more attached to it, as a result. On October 17, we remember Chopin’s death of TB at the age of 39. He is long gone, but his music remains to enrich our lives. He worked hard making sure every note was just right. This is how we write poetry, too: making sure that every word is just right.

Harvesting Chopin

After Mazurka in F-sharp Minor, Op. 59, No. 3, for my Grandma
Nina, Uncle Galakcyon, and Father, Aleksy Trochimczyk

The straw was too prickly,
the sunlight too bright,
my small hands too sweaty
to hold the wooden rake
my uncle carved for me.
I cried on the field of stubble;
stems fell under his scythe.

I was four and had to work –
Grandma said – no work no food.
How cruel! I longed for
the noon’s short shadows
when I’d quench my thirst
with cold water, taste
the freshly-baked rye bread

sweetened by the strands
of music wafting from
the kitchen window.
Distant scent of mazurkas
floated above the harvesters
dressed in white, long-sleeved shirts
to honor the bread in the making

The dance of homecoming
and sorrow – that’s what
Chopin was in the gjavascript:void(0)olden air
above the fields of Bielewicze
where children had to earn their right
to rest in the daily dose of the piano –
too pretty, too prickly, too bright


Published in "Voice of the Village" October 2010 issue. The 19th-century vintage postcard from Maja Trochimczyk's Private Collection.
Yucca blooms in Big Tujunga Wash, San Gabriel Mountains, photo by Maja Trochimczyk. Portrait by Kathabela Wilson, Beyond Baroque, September 12, 2010.